UF Public Relations Responds After Firing All Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Staff

UF Public Relations Responds After Firing All Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Staff

The University of Florida (UF) announced on March 1 that it eliminated its 28 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) employees holding faculty and administrative appointments. It also closed the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), canceled all related courses and campus activities, and stopped DEI-focused contracts with external vendors. Fired employees will receive UF's standard twelve weeks of pay. 

Some of the staff removed are CDO Marsha McGriff, Farrah Harvey, and Wilma Rogers. McGriff joined UF in December 2021, and right after, she started to execute her three-year initiative to foster inclusive excellence at the University.

Furthermore, UF will redirect $5 million, previously designated for DEI salaries and expenditures, to a faculty recruitment fund. UF's response to a state-ordered spending audit disclosed to The Alligator on January 18, 2023, revealed that the $5 million allocated to DEI spending for the 2022-2023 school year is only less than 1% of its annual budget. Hence, these employees were not a significant burden on the budget.

The same day, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis posted in X (formerly twitter), "DEI is toxic and has no place in our public universities. I'm glad that Florida was the first state to eliminate DEI, and I hope more states follow suit."

The institution explained that it followed the Florida Board of Governor's regulation 9.016 on prohibited expenditures, which passed back on November 9, 2023, in accordance with Senate Bill 266. It calls for limiting state or federal funds from being used on programs and initiatives promoting political or social activism. 

The authorities saw its implementation as prohibiting universities from allocating funds to support diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and from engaging in or promoting social or political activism. Regarding that bill, DeSantis claimed that "the whole experiment with DEI is coming to an end in the state of Florida." 

Also, on January 17, 2024, the Florida State Board of Education passed a rule permanently banning DEI initiatives in the Florida College System.

UF writes in its memo that employees are "encouraged to apply… for different positions currently posted with the university" and that their decisions will be issued within twelve weeks as well. 

I contacted UF's Director of Public Affairs, Cynthia Hernández, and asked what would happen to employees whose professional background doesn't apply to open positions. She ignored this question, replying that UF is working to uphold the first amendment.

"As soon as the state legislature passed the underlying law last year, the University of Florida began to take steps to comply — working to uphold our First Amendment obligation to prohibit compelled statements/pledges, explaining legislation to Deans and HR leaders, and reviewing our scholarships and accreditation standards.”

Hernández went on to say.

"After the Board of Governors issued regulation earlier this year, UF's General Counsel led an evaluation to ensure compliance and is now implementing these changes," 

Danaya C. Wright, the UF Professor of Law and the Chair of the Faculty Senate, stated in her email to UF staff that DEI employees were informed about their termination in January 2024. She also claimed that the UF knows some staff won't reapply. They will "pursue other opportunities." So, the institution agrees that not all employees will come back.

In the end, Wright stated that the institution's work under diversity, equity, and inclusivity will be continued. However, without DEI representatives.

Despite this mass dismissal rapidly becoming a news furor, the policy against such people has been running in Florida for almost a year.

Much earlier, on May 15, 2023, DeSantis signed his anticipated agenda of reducing funding for higher education institutions' DEI programs. He stated that, instead of the proclamation of freedom of self-expression and human rights, "DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination, and that has no place in our public institutions." 

Before that, he declared his plans to erase DEI on January 31, 2023, and on December 28, 2022, he issued a memo requesting Florida universities to report all DEI and critical race theory spending. 

The United Faculty of Florida (UFF), representing over 25,000 faculty members across colleges and universities throughout the state and graduate assistants at four universities, disagreed with the institution's decision. It sent a joint open letter to UF President Ben Sasse on March 5, where they expressed disappointment and stated that the University shouldn't listen to Florida's Governor's "perverse joy."

"Denying that there are historically dominant groups that instituted systemic oppression against historically marginalized groups, or denying that these inequities must be proactively addressed isn't mere denial: it represents active support for such oppression," it delivers. "The elimination of DEI is one of the moving parts in a concerted effort to create higher education programs that create unquestioning civilians in the face of rising fascism."

The letter also stated that "the UF administration has shown eager complicity in this erosion of our academy."

The UFF members exemplified that, over the past four years, the Florida state legislature has enacted laws that are deemed unconstitutional to restrict academic freedom, impede faculty and graduate assistant rights, and reduce student access to education. 

This includes the removal of Sociology from the list of courses for undergraduate students this January. The activists said that this way, new laws diminish the prestige, competitiveness, and academic rigor of the Florida state university system.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, also didn't support this dismissal and called it "an attack on Florida's higher education." 

"When leaders decide that some courses are simply too controversial because they don't align with their political viewpoints, Florida suffers," he said in a news release.

The wave of eliminating DEI from universities has started and will continue not only in Florida but also nationwide. Last month, the University of North Florida closed its LGBTQ+ and women's centers, while Florida International University subsequently eliminated its DEI division. 

Likewise, in January, The University of Utah president announced that diversity statements will no longer be utilized in the hiring process. In addition, in December, Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, introduced a legislative proposal to cut federal funding from colleges allowing DEI statements during their hiring process.

Hanna Motorina

Hanna Motorina

Hanna Motorina is a New York-based reporter from Ukraine. She has experience over 8 years covering international politics, policy, and economics.